Monday, May 19, 2014

May 18 (Day 138) - The incredible Arizona hot streak continues! Quail, hawks, owls!!!

NOTE!!! I wrote a full blogpost for yesterday as well so please be sure to check that out too!

I know I told you the blog would eventually start to talk about more than just birding, but today is not that day. I cannot believe the bird finding luck I am having at the moment. It's going to take a while to get through the great birds I added today.

The campsite in which I stayed last night was a very friendly place. As the sun set, several birders and photographers congregated around an Elf owl nest in the campground to exchange information. I discovered that several Montezuma quail had been seen not far from the campground. It would take a few miles of walking to reach the spot, but this was totally reasonable given the quality of this bird. I set off at sunrise and figured that I would use the entire morning to track down this species. I walked down the canyon along the Cave Creek Nature Trail. The scrubby habitat looked very good but I was unable to kick up any of Montezumas. I then started to climb upwards towards Silver Peak, and I entered into what I thought was even better habitat for the birds. I slowly slogged uphill while continually scanning around for quail. The temperature today rose quickly. I reached a particularly steep spot in the trail and decided the terrain was starting to get too rocky for these birds. I turned to retrace my steps down the mountain hoping that I might be luckier on the return trip. A few minutes later I heard a rustling right next to the trail. A pair of quail rifled out of the grass and up the hill. Montezumas (#422)! I quickly gave chase, and after a few minutes I was able to obtain a record photo. This was one of the birds that I bypassed in the Davis mountains in Texas, so it was incredibly satisfying to find it today in Arizona. I actually kicked up a second pair back on the Cave Creek Trail to give me 4 individual birds for the morning. I also saw a Rufous-crowned sparrow at the beginning of the walk for bird #421.

Silver Peak Trail this morning

View from Silver Peak Trail

Montezuma quail habitat

#422 Montezuma quail

As I walked back into the campground after my Montezuma quail triumph, I noticed a hawk soaring over it. A quick glance revealed a hawk that I could not immediately identify. I grabbed a few quick photos before it headed off down the Canyon. I had never seen a hawk like this before, but I had a hunch what I might have seen. I broke out my field guide as soon as I reached my loaner tent (also from Ron and Janet!), and confirmed what I thought: Common black-hawk (it is not common around here)! I have seen this bird twice before, but both times were in Texas and both birds were black adults. That I had never seen this species in this plumage is why I had to pause. Experienced birders will know that Common black-hawks have very broad wings. It was the wings that made me think black-hawk, but it was the unfamiliar plumage that threw me off. This was a great find for me for 3 reasons: First, this is the second bird on which I passed when I decided to skip the Davis Mountains. Second, this bird is migrating really late which means it would normally be way north of here where I wouldn't have seen it. Third, I would have had to ride at least an extra 150 miles in other Arizona areas to find this bird. This find, along with the quail above, validated my decision to skip the Davis Mountains and assured I will not have to make huge a detour to find it later in the month! It was an incredibly lucky morning!

#423 Immature Common black-hawk

After this morning's successes, I decided to go down into Portal to grab an early lunch. On my way down the canyon, I ran into Portal birding legend David Jasper. Dave has been birding the Chiricahuas for a long time (20-30 years, I think) and knows this area better than just about anyone. We started talking and it came up that I had not yet seen Western screech-owl or Northern pygmy-owl. He said he could get me those 2 birds in the next ten minutes. I was skeptical at best as it was now 11am! Well, in ten minutes I did have both birds - just as advertised. I have said it over and over again: you cannot beat local knowledge! Oh yeah, no tapes were used either.

#424 Western screech-owl

#425 Northern-pygmy owl

Me, Dave's girlfriend Elaine, Dave

After lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon feeder-watching at Robert Rodrigues' feeder array. Interrstingly, Bob's property used to be owned by Dave Jasper! Portal is a small town, after all. I was hoping to find one of several lingering Green-tailed towhees. The feeders were very active and a fair number of common desert birds (Black-throated sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, Gambel's quail, etc.) came and went with great regularity. However, the big star of the afternoon was the Coatimundi that arrived to attack the beehive behind the feeder array!

Coatimundi eating honeycomb from beehive

The avian highlight of the afternoon was the Zone-tailed hawk (#426) that cruised over the desert chaparral beyond the feeder array. This regal hawk is present throughout much of Arizona but can be tough to find at times. Knocking this bird out today was another big victory. I later added the Green-tailed towhee for species #427 and Lesser nighthawk for #428. 

Green-tailed towhee running away from me

A fortuitous sign I saw today!

The same Whiskered screech-owl from the other
day. I walked right by him on my morning walk.

Banded Gray-breasted jay

What I think is a Baltimore X Bullock's hybrid oriole

I also got 2 shots of common desert birds that will make the cut for my dedicated photography website (

Black-headed grosbeak 

Gambel's quail

Tomorrow I will bird the lower areas of the Chiricahuas. I am staying in Portal tonight and will probably be right near town for most of the day tomorrow. That's it - double blog entry done! Time for Oreos and then bed. Biking, birding, and blogging is tiring.....really, really tiring.


  1. Sick find and photo with the Black-hawk! Do you think you'll camp more regularly on your upcoming mountain route? -- Dave

  2. What a great day! So many great birds! Congrats on both hawks. That black-hawk is bomb. Such a cool bird. The landscape in that area looks absolutely incredible! This has been one of my favorite blog posts.